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The Spiel des Jahres and me

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Zombie Planet got copies of Camel Up in time for Tabletop Day, so I bought a copy. I ended up playing four times, both before and after some meatier games. It is wild fun which invites the careful gamer to hilariously overthink their strategy while still giving some reward to that thinking.

I definitely think it deserved the game of the year win over Splendor, which I have always found to be enjoyable but unexceptional.

This got me thinking about the Spiel des Jahres over the long run. I looked them up, checked which I'd played, and tallied the results.

I've played 16 of 36 winners of the main prize. If we add in the Kennerspiel winners and winners of the other relevant special prizes, it goes to 22 out of 45.

thumbsup means I've played it, and X means I haven't. I really should have played Hare & Tortoise. I traded for a copy a while ago but didn't get around to playing it. Now it's packed in a box until we move. I should play it in June, after the move, which will pull me up to just more than half.

thumbsupthumbsup 2014: Camel Up, Istanbul
thumbsupX 2013: Hanabi, Legends of Andor
thumbsupthumbsup 2012: Kingdom Builder, Village
Xthumbsup 2011: Qwirkle, 7 Wonders
thumbsup 2010: Dixit
thumbsupthumbsup 2009: Dominion, Space Alert
Xthumbsup 2008: Keltis, Agricola
thumbsup 2007: Zooloretto
XXX 2006: Thurn and Taxis, Caylus, Shadows Over Camelot
X 2005: Niagara
thumbsup 2004: Ticket to Ride
thumbsup 2003: Alhambra
X 2002: Villa Paletti
thumbsupXthumbsup 2001: Carcassonne, Troia, Lord of the Rings
X 2000: Torres
thumbsup 1999: Tikal
X 1998: Elfenland
X 1997: Mississippi Queen
thumbsup 1996: El Grande
thumbsup 1995: The Settlers of Catan
X 1994: Manhattan
thumbsup 1993: Liar's Dice
X 1992: Um Reifenbreite
X 1991: Drunter und Druber
X 1990: Hoity Toity
X 1989: Cafe International
X 1988: Barbarossa
X 1987: Auf Achse
X 1986: Heimlich & Co.
thumbsup 1985: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
X 1984: Railway Rivals
thumbsup 1983: Scotland Yard
X 1982: Enchanted Forest
X 1981: Focus
thumbsup 1980: Rummikub
X 1979: Hare and Tortoise
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Mon Apr 13, 2015 1:32 am
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It arrives!

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I just opened my copy of Wrath of the Cosmos, although it might have been sitting there a while. The delivery guy hid it inside the screen door of an entry we don't use. I can't be too bitter, though, because it wasn't any worse for having sat out in the cold for what might have been days.

I haven't gotten a chance to try any of the new stuff, but I have updated my Scenario Generator Tool to include all the stuff from Wrath of the Cosmos, the new mini-expansions, and the new promo cards.
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Thu Jan 8, 2015 9:43 pm
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Two Rook City variants

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Sentinels of the Multiverse: Rook City was the first expansion for Sentinels, which is maybe why it's the one I most wanted to tinker with. A cool feature of the way Sentinels is designed is that an alternate hero or villain card can do a lot to finesse the way that the deck plays.

And, like I do, I doodled up art for them. Click on the images below for full-sized, printable versions.

I also give a bit of the rationale for each of the variants. Whether the changes count as improvements will be partly a matter of taste. Feel free to leave a comment noting either approval or revulsion!

Expatriette, Trademark

From gallery of pmagnus
From gallery of pmagnus


Trademark Power: Search your trash or your deck for either "Pride" or "Prejudice" and put it into play. If you searched your deck, shuffle your deck.

bluetaj: I have had too many games with original Expatriette when she went for turns without any cards to play. This alternate power means that Expatriette can always get her hands on a gun. It won't usually be the best one for the job, but it will be one of her favourites.

EDIT: Here's a revised (better) version of the alternate power.

From gallery of pmagnus


Spite, Killer in the Shadows

From gallery of pmagnus
From gallery of pmagnus



At the start of the game, put Spite in play, Killer in the Shadows side up.

Spite starts with 60 HP.

Reveal cards from the top of the villain deck until a Drug card is revealed and put it in play. Search the villain deck for the Safe House and put it in play. Shuffle other revealed cards into the villain deck.


front side: KILLER IN THE SHADOWS

If at any time there are no Drug cards in play or if Spite would be destroyed, flip Spite's villain character card.

If one of Spite's cards would destroy environment cards, instead heal Spite 1 HP for each environment card that would be destroyed.

Damage to Spite is reduced by 1 for each Victim in play.

At the start of the villain turn, you may discard one card from under the Safe House to shuffle one Drug card into the villain deck.

At the end of the villain turn, Spite deals the hero target with the lowest HP H-2 melee damage and the hero target with the highest HP H-1 energy damage.


back side: JONESING MURDER ADDICT

When flipped to this side, if Spite has fewer than 20 HP, restore Spite to 20 HP.

At the start of the villain turn, you may discard one card from under the Safe House to shuffle one Drug card into the villain deck.
Then Spite regains 1 HP for each Victim in play.

At the end of the villain turn, play the top card of the villain deck. Then, Spite deals all targets H-1 energy damage.


bluetaj: With this version of Spite, players have a strong incentive to try and save potential victims. Victims in play benefit him (by reducing damage on the front, by healing him on the back), and saved victims give the players a way to try and control Spite's drugs.

Another small change is that he hides in the environment on the front side; all his cards that would destroy environment cards heal him instead.

The result is a very different experience from the usual Spite, which quickly makes the environment irrelevant and always ends with all the drugs in play.
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Sun Jul 6, 2014 3:58 am
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Sentinels scenario generator, updated for Vengeance

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I finally got a copy of the Vengeance expansion, so I added code to my scenario generator for generating vengeance-style villain times.

The Sentinels Scenario Generator


sauron It was originally designed as a webapp, and I used it on my iPhone. I have since gotten an iPad, and it works fine. You can add it to your homescreen and run it like an app.

robot It caches the content, so you can use it without a network connection.

goo You can reroll specific choices without resetting the whole scenario by hitting one of the [X] buttons.

ninja By default, it suggests Vengeance villain teams with only twice as often as any specific standard villain. If you don't want that, bump the villain choice. If you specifically do want to face the Vengeful N (for some number N) hit the [!] button.

zombie It includes all the alternate versions so far, including the Dark Watch and G.I. Bunker.
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Sun Mar 9, 2014 5:52 am
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Shaking up Gotham

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I was thinking about Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game today. There is a lot to like about the game. The bits are great, it's dripping with theme, and the basic flow of the game is fun. However, it just drags on too long. It's not just about the length of the game, but also that the outcome starts to feel locked in well before the game finally ends. So it can feel like a grind.

It occurred to me that this could be fixed by having goals that players could pursue at any time, rather than having to achieve level goals in specific order. My idea is to replace the levels with five piles of achievement cards. Most of them are constructed so that the top card is the easiest to achieve, and they get harder further down.

At the beginning of your turn, you can take the top card from one of the piles by meeting the conditions for it. If this is the first time you have taken a card from that pile, then you get a special power.

Note that you can only take one achievement a turn, even if you qualify for more. You should pick the one that another player seems to be going for!

The game ends when three of the piles are exhausted. Each card is worth one point, and the player with the most points wins.

sauronsauronsauron

Here are the achievement piles. They could easily be mocked up with note cards or slips of paper.

Control: The first card requires controlling 4 blocks; the later cards require 5, 6, and 7.

Money: The first card requires discarding $6; the later cards require 8$, $10, $12.

Information: The first card requires discarding 6 information; the later cards require 8, 10, 12.

Henchmen: The first card requires having 2 henchmen; the later cards require 3, 4, 5.

Boss of Gotham: Unlike the others, this deck would be shuffled in a random order. One card requires controlling most of Uptown; another, most of midtown; another, most of downtown. The fourth card requires being the villain to most recently have defeated Batman.

sauronsauronsauron

A few thoughts about balance, which can only be resolved by trying it:

Perhaps the later cards in the pile should be worth more points; an obvious change would be to just have the last card be worth two points.

Perhaps the Henchmen pile is too easy, since you you just need to buy one henchman to meet the next goal. But perhaps players will just need to race for henchmen, so as not to let one person have all those points.

Perhaps having the game end after three piles are exhausted makes it too long or too short. The obvious fix would be to require fewer or more piles to be exhausted, but maybe the endgame trigger should be completely different.

It could happen that someone has enough points to lock up the win before the game ends. Maybe there should be some hidden scoring?
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Fri Jun 28, 2013 9:01 pm
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The Sentinels Scenario Generator

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As I mentioned in the last post, we've been playing a lot of Sentinels of the Multiverse lately. At first we worked systematically through the villains, pitting them against their nemeses and other heroes most likely to face them, setting the battles in environments where the villain was likely to strike. Eventually, though, we had done all of the obvious conflicts and beaten each of the villains at least once.

So we started to shake it up, using Spiff's randomizer webpage. Unfortunately, the webpage is pretty clunky on my iPhone. So I wrote my own randomizer app. I made it as a tool for my own use, but I thought I'd share:

The Sentinels Scenario Generator

Here's a run down of its features:

sauron It is designed as a webapp, to display nicely on a smart phone screen. On an iphone, you can add it to your homescreen and it will run like an app.

robot It caches the content of the page, so you can use it even when you don't have a network connection. (In order to make it small, I went for text instead of graphics.)

goo You can reroll specific choices without resetting the whole scenario. If it gives you a villain you don't have or a hero you've played too much, then tap 'again' to change just that bit.

ninja Because you can bump specific choices, it doesn't require you to enter which things you want to have included. It knows about everything released so far, but you can nix things manually as required.

zombie It includes alternate versions, for heroes and villains that have them. For example, if it randomly selects Baron Blade as the villain than it tosses a coin to decide between original recipe and mad bomber.
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Mon Mar 11, 2013 4:19 am
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Sentinels Express

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I started to write an introduction which explained the trope of making Express versions of longer games and how Cristyn and I have been playing a lot of Sentinels lately, but the following really speaks for itself.

SENTINELS OF THE MULTIVERSE EXPRESS


Sentinels of the Multiverse is a superhero card game which, although it is great fun, uses cards rather than dice and also takes more than two minutes to play. Sentinels Express solves both of these problems.


COMPONENTS

Use standard six-sided dice:
one white die for each hero
one green die for the environment
one red die for the villain


GAME PLAY

Each player rolls the die for their hero. The player who is doing the record keeping rolls dice for the environment and the villain.

The environment disables any heroes who rolled the same result as the green environment die. Remove those heroes from play.

If any of the remaining hero dice show the same or greater number than the red villain die, then the heroes defeat the villain and the players win. If all the remaining hero dice are lower than the villain die, then the heroes are defeated and the players lose.

For example: Legacy, Haka, Wraith, and Tachyon are battling Plague Rat in Rook City. The heroes roll 3, 5, 2, and 1 (respectively). The green environment die comes up 5, and the villain die comes up 4. Haka is disabled by something in the city, because he and the environment both rolled 5; Haka's die is removed from play. None of the remaining dice are 4 or higher, so Plague Rat defeats the heroes.


NOTES

After a large number of games, playing with a total of four heroes per game, we have won a little more than 4 out of 5 games. I calculate that, in this Express version, heroes will win about 83% of the time. So it gives you about the same odds, but in much less time and without all the card shuffling.

If you wanted to add a bit more complexity, you could represent different villains with different kind of dice. For example, Baron Blade is a push-over and could be a red four-sided die. The Chairman could be a red eight-sided die.
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Sun Mar 3, 2013 10:26 pm
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Generally, climbing games; specifically, Fifteen

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I've been thinking lately about climbing games. For those unfamiliar with the label: In a climbing game, one player leads a card or set of cards. Each subsequent player either plays a higher card/set or passes. This continues until everyone passes. Then the last player to have played scoops the cards and leads a new round. Players want to get rid of all their cards, but there may also be points for cards scooped during the hand.

Examples include The Great Dalmuti, Frank's Zoo, Tichu, and Clubs.

As far as I can tell, the name 'climbing game' is due to John McLeod at Pagat. Some people think of them as trick-taking games, but the fact that players run out of cards at different rates makes them different. And even though some of them do reward taking particular cards, like point trick-taking games, the goal of card-shedding is really the more central feature of the genre. I've even heard them treated as rummy games, because players put together sets and try to run out of cards, but (unlike rummy) players don't draw or discard in climbing games. So it's handy to have a different term.

Surprisingly, climbing games are relatively new. When I introduce Clubs to other gamers, most of them either have no familiarity with climbing games or know just one of the packaged-game examples that I listed above. If the lore is to be believed, they originated in Asia during the second half of the 20th century. They are absent from Sid Sackson's classic Card Games Around the World and from my 700-page Complete Hoyle (revised 1991). The first one I learned was Rich Man, Poor Man in the early 1990s, when it was presented to me as being of Japanese origin.

This recency interests me, because climbing games are a template in much the same way that older traditional card games are. It is easy to invent your own, and people who play them are often quick to suggest variants and house rules. Even if the prepackaged ones are obviously recent productions, it seems as if card players must have known about games like this for a long time. But they haven't.

bacon Here are the rules for a climbing game I recently devised. It's very much a work in progress, and comments are welcome.

FIFTEEN

a climbing game of furious bombs for 3-6 players

Objective: To score points by playing out all of your cards.

Components: A 96-card deck with six cards of each rank, 0 through 15. For example, a Rage or Proxy Suits deck.

Zeros are considered low. Suits don't matter.

You'll also need either paper and pencil or chips for scoring.

GAME PLAY

The dealer shuffles the entire deck and deals a fifteen card hand to each player. The remainder of the deck is set aside. The player on the dealer's left leads.

A player leads by laying down cards in one of the following patterns:

d10-1 Singleton: Any single card

d10-2 Run: Two or more cards in rank order; for example: 2-3-4

d10-3 Of-a-kind: Two or more cards of the same rank; for example: 7-7-7-7

The player to the left may either play a higher pattern of cards or pass. Play then continues clockwise.

d10-1 A singleton can be followed by a single card of higher rank; for example, 12 could be followed by 13, 14, or 15.

d10-2 A run can be followed by another run of the same length and ending with a higher-ranked card; e.g. 2-3-4 could be followed by 3-4-5, but not by another 2-3-4 (not higher) or 3-4-5-6 (not the same length).

d10-3 Cards of-a-kind may be followed by the same number of cards at a higher rank; for example, four 7s could be followed by four 11s.

Players may play when it comes to them even if they passed earlier. When all players pass after a specific play, the cards are cleared away, and the player who played last leads.

If a player has run out of cards and ought to lead (because everyone passed after their last play) then the player on their left leads.

F-BOMBS

Here's the extra wrinkle: Any pattern may be followed by an f-bomb, where the 'f' means 'fifteen'.

An f-bomb is a set of cards with ranks that add up to 15 and consisting of exactly one more card than the previous play. It is played in usual turn order, but may be played to follow any pattern.

Example: A singleton 15 could be followed by an f-bomb 13-2. A run 9-10-11 could be followed by an f-bomb 6-5-3-1.

An f-bomb can only be followed by another f-bomb, although the subsequent f-bomb will need to be one card longer.

Example: An f-bomb 13-2 could be followed by an f-bomb 8-4-3, which could be followed in turn by an f-bomb 11-4-0-0. The four-card f-bomb could not be played to directly follow 13-2.

A player may not lead an f-bomb, although the cards may be lead as another pattern.

Example: 7-8 can be led as a run and 5-5-5 as three of-a-kind, but if led they can be followed by a higher two-card run or three of-a-kind. An f-bomb 7-5-3 cannot be led.

SCORING

When you play your last card, you immediately score one point for each player who still has any cards left. Play continues if there are still two or more players left with cards.

Once there is only one player remaining, the hand ends. The player on the previous dealer's left deals the next hand.

The game ends immediately when a player has scored 15 or more points, and that player is the winner.

DESIGN NOTES

The thing that distinguishes Fifteen from other climbing games is the f-bombs: They are sufficiently easy to put together that every player might be able to pull together a few of them. But they are simply added up, so putting together the cards to form one probably tears apart runs and of-a-kinds. They make it unclear what a good hand looks like, since low cards are best for stitching together f-bombs and high cards are best for non-bomb play. They are situational, because you can only play an f-bomb that is exactly one card larger than the previous play and because you cannot lead an f-bomb.

The game has been only fleetingly playtested, and it needs something else.
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Tue Sep 18, 2012 9:48 pm
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